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Pagan Black Metal is a sub-genre of Black Metal music that musically sits somewhere between the traditional black metal sound as pioneered by the early Norwegian black metal scene and Melodic Black Metal. The atmosphere of the genre is generally raw and primitive sounding yet the guitars tend towards a less abrasive and more melodic tone. In addition, pagan black metal makes use of a degree of folk influences, either played on real instruments or replicated through modern technology. Clean singing will often be featured alongside black metal growling. It shares some similarities to Viking Metal, and due to its folk elements many pagan black metal artists have also produced releases that may be considered fully-fledged Folk Metal.

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NAGELFAR Hünengrab im Herbst Album Cover Hünengrab im Herbst
4.74 | 14 ratings
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HAVUKRUUNU Kelle surut soi Album Cover Kelle surut soi
4.40 | 6 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM Weltanschauung Album Cover Weltanschauung
4.29 | 13 ratings
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АРКОНА Храм Album Cover Храм
4.29 | 5 ratings
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CNOC AN TURSA The Forty Five Album Cover The Forty Five
4.25 | 4 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM The Taste of Victory Album Cover The Taste of Victory
4.17 | 3 ratings
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PRIMORDIAL Imrama Album Cover Imrama
4.05 | 7 ratings
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PRIMORDIAL Storm Before Calm Album Cover Storm Before Calm
4.00 | 5 ratings
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DARKESTRAH Epos Album Cover Epos
4.00 | 4 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM Мировоззрение Album Cover Мировоззрение
3.83 | 6 ratings
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MARȚOLEA Noaptea Dihãniilor Album Cover Noaptea Dihãniilor
3.83 | 5 ratings
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WINTERFYLLETH The Ghost of Heritage Album Cover The Ghost of Heritage
3.75 | 4 ratings
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Album · 2004 · Pagan Black Metal
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While black metal has found its beginnings as primarily a European musical expression, it really didn’t take long at all after the initial second wave explosion of the 90s to drift far and wide like a cloud of radioactive dust after an initial impact to blanket the entire globe. Bands like Kekal from Indonesia, Inquisition from Colombia, Shub Niggurath from Mexico, Taarma from Afghanistan and Deiphago from the Philippines have all experienced varying degrees of success on the world’s stage but perhaps one of the most unusual of black metal bands to emerge was DARKESTRAH which came into existence in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, a nation even in the 21st century still remains off most people’s radar.

DARKESTRAH, a portmanteau of dark and orchestra, was formed in 1999 by drummer Asbath in the capital city of Bishkek and released two demos “Pagan Black Act” and “Through the Ashes of the Shamanic Flames” before catching the attention of the German lane Curse of KvN Sadistic in 2003. The band would relocate to Leipzig, Germany and released its first album SARY OY in 2004 to critical acclaim in the underground world of black metal for its innovative mix of kvlt black metal sounds with the traditional folk music of Kyrgyzstan which implements the unique sounds of instruments such as the kyl-kyjak, a two-stringed upright bow instrument, the komuz which is an ancient fretless stringed instrument like the flute, the temir-komuz better known as a jew harp. In addition to the black metal raspy vocals set below the caustic din, the folky segments exhibit the sygyt which is a form of Central Asian throat singing.

Most similar to Romania’s Negura Bunget for its homegrown ethnic flavors seeping into the fabric of black metal, DARKESTRAH sounds like no other because the Central Asian folk sounds are in a world of their own and are quite effective in conjunct with the black metal bombast. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of DARKESTRAH is how the band adds highly complex progressive elements which include unorthodox time signature shifts, lengthy sprawling compositions that go through a series of changes as the three tracks narrate the concept of an ancient Kyrgyz tale about three sisters of nature. It’s also notable that lead vocalist Kriegtalith is female although in extreme metal gender specific vocal styles are indistinguishable. With only three tracks that make up a full album’s worth, DARKESTRAH crafts its compositions like classical scores with various movements.

The first two tacks hover around the 11 minute mark. “Part I - Sary Oy” emulates the wind swept Central Asian lands and introduces the Pagan themes with homegrown instruments that slowly evoke the atmospheric elements and the spirit of the land before the black metal erupts into full fury. While the mix is impressive the one weakness of the album becomes clear from the getgo and that is the rather amateurish mixing job of the keyboards and other elements. While not horrific, it’s clear that this band was still learning how to craft an epic sounding album. The second track “Part II - Jashii Oy” is the odd song of the bunch as it introduces a rather frenetic time signature rich guitar sequence that reminds me a bit of John Frusciante’s guitar parts in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ hit “Snow” only this has a keyboard taking the spotlight. The track drifts on in a groovy electronic mode for six minutes before hitting its stride in metal turf. This second track is entirely instrumental.

The most epic track is the closing “Part III - Kysil Oy” which at nearly 26 minutes swallows up 2/3 of the entire album’s run. This track is also the most progressive as it drifts in and out of varying motifs that begins with the ambient sounds of howling winds accompanied by traditional Kyrgyz instruments but then around three minutes the black metal guitars kick in only is a drifting sort of sustained chord sorta way until it ramps up into a fast tempo fury accompanied by some keyboards that unfortunately sound a bit cheesy due to the mixing inadequacies however this sequence also delivers some of the most progressive constructs of the whole album with labyrinthine proggy workouts at breakneck speed. A piano sequence remnant of the previous track briefly kicks in at nine minutes or so before around ten minutes all the bombast drops out and it becomes an ambient track for several minutes. The rest of the running time sounds more like a church organ rich ritual along with a more demented version of Philip Glass around the “Glassworks” and “Koyaanisqatsi” era.

SARY OY has been a decisive album for sure as it will not appeal to black metal purists for its lengthy excursions completely out of the metal realms however for those interested in amazingly original experimental and progressive music then DARKESTRAH delivers all the goods on this one. The only pitfall with this debut album is the production and mixing job which are not horrible by an means but there are moments, most notably the keyboard oriented ones that things just don’t sound as tight knit as they should. If you base your musical happiness on production then this will most likely disappoint but if you can forgive the inexperience and focus on the music itself then this one is completely satisfying on many levels. Steeped in Western classical undercurrents and decorated with ethnic flavors and black metal bombast, SARY OY is quite the satisfying experience of experimental Pagan black metal emerging from one of the most off the radar regions of the planet. Blackened folklore metal rarely sounds this sophisticated and DARKESTRAH found a way to stand out from the very start.

VARGSKRAFT Aullidos de Libertad

Album · 2015 · Pagan Black Metal
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The bleak sonic soundscapes of pagan black metal don’t always emerge from the frigid northern bleakness of Scandinavian winters but some that don’t sure sound like they do. Such is the case of the Argentinean band VARGSKRAFT which resides in the extreme southern city of Comodoro Rivadavia which is located on the Atlantic coast approximately equidistant between Buenos Aires and the tip of Tierra del Fuego in the isolated middle section of Patagonia.

Despite the huge distances from the frosty Nordic highlands of Sweden, the inspiration nevertheless finds the band’s name sporting a Swedish moniker that means “wolf power.” The band was formed in 2015 and i assume is still together but so far has only released this mere three track EP titled AULLIDOS DE LIBERTAD which is Spanish for “Howls of Liberty.” Considering Argentina’s in flux of European immigrants throughout the 20th century, it’s not surprising that many of the Nordic influences reside there as there are many European outposts in Argentina and Brazil.

The band consists of five members which includes VargVand (bass), Panzer (drums), DysterEnsomhet (guitars) and Velkan (vocals). Considering many non-European or North American bands fail to understand the intricate nature of constructing black metal, there are of course always exceptions and VARGSKRAFT is definitely one of those rare outliers who has mastered the art of pagan black metal and shows an amazing amount of promise crafting some of the best black metal on the market. So what in the world are these guys waiting for? Release a real album already! Another interesting feature is that the lyrics are in Spanish and can actually be deciphered at points. The subject matter covers the expected range of pagan topics such as mysticism and nature.

The bad news is that AULLIDOS DE LIBERTAD consists of only three tracks that almost hit the sixteen minute mark but VARGSKRAFT doesn’t waste a microsecond in delivering some of the highest quality black metal with all the expected twists and turns. Firstly, Velkan has the most effective vocal style for this style of music with just the amount of raspiness that could win him a slot in any of the established Norwegian bands that needed a replacement. Perfect fit for Mayhem, Darkthrone, Gorgoroth or even Swedish bands like Dissection. The instrumental interplay is impeccable and although there could be more dynamic shifts, it’s actually fairly well done for a first time endeavor.

VARGSKRAFT has also mastered the art of delivery which is often the most difficult intricacies to master. Despite the rather tritone tremolo guitar antics, the compositions keep things interesting as the energetic rampages meander through different chord progressions while the bass and drum attacks are clearly audible. The production is excellent for black metal and perfectly allows just enough lo-fi indie charm to shine through the darkened cloud covered skies. Perhaps the biggest drawback of AULLIDOS is that it’s simply lacking any sort of originality but the performances are so well executed that it’s an entertaining listen nonetheless. I could totally see this band emerging as one of the newest best things if they find their own voice. Whether they do that remains to be scene but this is a promising debut EP.

КРОДА Поплач мені, річко...

Album · 2004 · Pagan Black Metal
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The Ukrainian black metal scene has been quite prolific since the dawn of the nation’s independence from the Soviet stranglehold that ended in the early 90s. While bands like Nokturnal Mortem, Drudkh and Lutomysl may be the most recognizable names of the scene, there are literally dozens more that are lurking in the underground of one of Europe’s most prolific regions outside of Scandinavia. The Lviv based KRODA has been around since 2003 and in that time span has produced some fine high quality epic folk infused Pagan black metal with catchy melodic hooks that takes the listener into the darkened Pagan ritualistic lands of the Carpathian mountain range.

Formed by Eisenslav (vocals, bass) and Viterzgir (guitars, bass, folk instruments, keyboards), the moniker KRODA ( КРОДА ) was chosen and taken from Old East Slavic language which means “The Fire of Burial Bonfire” which refers to the point when the souls of deceased warriors were set free through the burning process. At this stage the band was only a duo. This debut release Поплач мені, річко... (Cry To Me, River...) was released in 2004 on Stellar Winter as a cassette that only found 1000 copies being recorded but has since found its way onto both CD and vinyl along with bonus tracks on a variety of record labels.

Поплач мені, річко... (Cry To Me, River…) was not an early demo release but rather a full-length album that contained eight tracks and a running time of 48 minutes. Similar to other atmospheric black metal bands, KRODA implemented the standard black metal goods such as hyperspeed tremolo guitar riffing, blitzkrieg blastbeat drumming and the expected raspy vocals buried beneath the pummeling resembling more the croaking raspiness of Inquisition rather than the frenetic screams of the Norwegian scene. The uniqueness of the band however comes from the beautiful Ukrainian folk melodies brought forth by the keyboard runs that add the gloomy mysterious fog of atmospheric cloud covers. Adding to the folky flavors are the flutes which exude the Pagan ritualistic vibes that act alone or with the addition of the metal bombast.

While all the instrumentation is performed by just Eisenslav and Viterzgir, the album has a full-band sound where all the elements are perfectly fused together much like neighboring Negura Bunget’s stellar contributions with its own brand of Pagan folk black metal. Despite being an early album by a duo that had only been together for a year, the album sounds well seasoned with excellent compositions that find the somewhat new age flute runs and the orotundity of the black metal coexisting in an unthinkable truce. The production is perfectly crafted as well with only the occasional keyboard run sounding a bit cheesy but overall they keys are integrated quite well and create the perfect murky backdrop to the stampede of the galloping guitar riffs. Add to that the bass is actually audible as well, which is fairly good thing for a muddy distortion-fest like this. Also the drumming is not only frenetic and relentless but is also quite varied which gives the album an even greater intensity.

The band’s tracks at this stage are all in the native Ukrainian language but the themes primarily deal with heathenism, history, nature, traditions and the favorite subject of black metal, anti-Christianity. The album is uncanny in that it pretty much has two distinct things going on. The Pagan folk is always fluttering around in the background while the black metal creates a counterpoint around it but the flute and keys have moments when they are allowed to pierce the veil and become the emphasis whereas mostly the metal parts are the dominant force. This is an excellent debut by one of the Ukraine’s more talented metal bands and a great beginning for a lengthy career that continues. While other bands like Nokturnal Mortem use folk music as a flavor to wrap around the metal, it seems as if KRODA do the opposite and craft the black metal riffs around the folk melodies. A perfect example is the instrumental Hypocrisy cover “Apocalypse” that ends the album with a slowed down symphonic cooling down with only guitar chords that eschew the freneticism of the album’s prior tracks. Great album!

NAGELFAR Hünengrab im Herbst

Album · 1997 · Pagan Black Metal
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While Scandinavia ruled the black metal world in the early 90s, it didn’t take long for other regions of the world to jump into the grimy darkened pits of musical extremity and find their own unique spin on the underlying paradigm. Germany’s NAGELFAR was one of the early birds to the German black metal scene having formed in 1993 by guitarist Zorn and drummer Rykthius von Meilenwald, now known as Alexander von Meilenwald (who would later become the one-man band Ruins Of Beverest). Right from the beginning the duo made a promise to only continue the NAGELFAR project if the two of them were in it, and so they did although they would include many changing lineups of hired help. Joining Zorn and Meilenwald in time for their debut was vocalist Jander, bassist Weidmann Sveinn Hacklenberg and keyboardist Garvin.

The name NAGELFAR comes from Norse mythology and is the German spelling for “Naglfar” which is also the name of a totally different Swedish black metal band. The “Naglfar” was a boat made entirely from the fingernails and toenails of the dead. Now THAT’S fucking black metal metal!!! While missing the original second wave of the black metal scene, NAGELFAR took their time to hone their craft and forge a new style that would become known as Pagan black metal, a style that had already been tried with bands like Primordial, Samain, Voluspaa and most famously Ulver on their successful debut “Bergtatt: Et eeventyr i 5 capitler,” but on their 1997 debut HÜNENGRAB IM HERBST, the band forged a new brand of Pagan black metal that sounded like no other from the era and to this day still has an air of uniqueness despite the legions of similarly styled bands to have hit the scene in the past two decades.

Much like the second wave of bombastic Scandinavian strain of black metal, NAGELFAR implements all the expected black metal bombs such as buzzsaw guitar riffing with tremolo picking, orotund blastbeat intensity, unhinged shrieked vocals and an overall gloomy and darkened atmosphere, however as much as NAGELFAR turned to Norwegian bands like Darkthrone, Emperor and Immortal for inspiration, so too did they adopt the Viking metal characteristic of Bathory’s second career phase that eschewed venomous anti-Christian rhetoric, Satanic obsessions and misanthropy and instead installed the lyrical contents of Paganism, mythology and folklore that explored the themes of nature and the depths of the human soul. While the extreme black metal elements dominate, they are intricately entwined with less frantic segments that include epic sung clean vocals, melodic use of acoustic guitars and pianos and an airy synthesized ambient background that hovers over the metal bombast like an incessant ice storm in Lapland. NAGELFAR also debuted their love of electronically comprised industrial sounds that would be more prominent on future releases.

The seven tracks that make up HÜNENGRAB IM HERBST are constructed differently enough to keep the album interesting throughout the near hour long run. Germanic folk melodies prevail as the underpinning of the compositional constructs and thus emphasize the Pagan ritualistic aura that surrounds the frenetic black metal outbursts. The tracks are also epic in scope as two tracks exceed the fourteen minute mark and the overall compositions exude an avant-garde flair that is more epic than the standard second wave black metal album of the era. In a way, NAGELFAR crafted the black metal extension of Bathory who had deemphasized black metal in favor of a new style called Viking metal. HÜNENGRAB IM HERBST develops themes presented by Enslaved and sounds sort of like what they (Enslaved) would conjure up if they had fused with Amorphis around the “Tales From The Thousand Lakes” era, a sound that fuses black metal and folk metal so perfectly that it takes on an entirely new sheen.

This one was love at first listen and has only gotten better after repeated listens. The warring factions of bombastic black metal, melodic atmospheric folk elements and pseudo-progressive epical compositional fortitude give HÜNENGRAB IM HERBST a long lasting impression and has become one of Germany’s best black metal exports. The album has been released on both the Kettenhund label and the Van label with two completely different album covers that depict the same levitating boulder from different angle points. This one has remained a favorite Pagan black metal album on my playlist for many years as it holds up remarkably well, offering a well-balanced journey through black metal bombast, Pagan folk reverie and melodic with an edge splendor. NAGELFAR would release two more albums “Srontgorrth” and “Virus West” before they would dissolve the band but this debut would never be topped as it displays all the building blocks of an utterly addictive emersion session!


Album · 2018 · Pagan Black Metal
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Russia's Аркона (A.K.A. Arkona, used herein) must surely be their country's premium folk metal band. They've been releasing albums since 2004's Возрождение (Vozrozhdenie), but become something really special with 2005's Во славу великим! (Vo Slavu Velikim!), actually their third album by that point due to releasing Лепта (Lepta) later in 2004. Most recently, in 2016, they went back and remade their debut album in a much more polished yet faithful to the original version, complete with more authentic folk instrumentation as they were synthesising a lot of stuff when they first started, a treatment that I hope they give Lepta as well. Before that though the band had released Явь (Yav) in 2014, an album that saw them taking different approaches in their music. It's an album that can be seen as, through the kind of hindsight that can only be gained through the release of it's follow-up, Храм (Khram), as the kind of transitional, stepping stone release to the band becoming something different. Arkona may be Russia's premium folk metal act, but in 2018 their genre allegiance has taken a thoroughly more blackened turn.

Of course Arkona was always partially based in the black metal genre, also drawing on power metal in some songs, but here it's like the genre has taken over from folk metal as the band's main focus. Khram is not so much a folk metal album but a pagan black metal album. That means that there's still folk elements to be found, but it's much more about the blackened riff and a primitive sound. Vocalist Masha "Scream" Arkhipova still uses her clean singing abilities, but is dominantly using her growling style on this record. This is not to say that her growl suddenly sounds like the typical necro black metal rasp (it doesn't) or that the guitar tone is suddenly all raw and cold (it isn't), but the overall style and vibe of the band's music has certainly taken a shift. Yet it's still very much recognisable as the work of Arkona.

They've also got noticeably more progressive with this release. Yav had elements of what I would attribute to prog but it's much more overt here and has resulted in some added complexity within the primitive pagan black metal sound Arkona has forged for themselves. This also comes across in the form of some long song structures. Intro and Outro tracks aside the only regular length song can be said to be Шторм (Shtorm) at 5:12. The rest are all at least close to eight minutes long and one, Целуя жизнь (Tseluya zhizn') is over seventeen, making it Arkona's longest song to date.

I have one gripe I need to get off my chest at this point though. It's the intro track and by extension the outro track, both titled Мантра (Mantra). The Outro version only lasts for fifty-five seconds and it's really of any consequence but the Intro version goes on for too long at 3:51 before the first proper song gets underway. I wouldn't mind so much, but the chant-based intro just fails to really click with me on any level and proves a detraction from the release as a whole. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to start the album on track two.

However the rest of the rest is excellent. Khram is definitely more of a grower than Arkona's folk metal work, thanks in no small part to its darker sound, so it may take a few listens before it really starts to feel like it's rewarding its listener for their patience. The extra long track, Tseluya zhizn', certainly stands out as the crowning achievement of the album, but there's some great work to be found right across it, with plenty of variation in the delivery of each track that gives each identity, such as the use of piano on Волчица (Volchitsa), which is actually a cover song, originally by Russian folk group ВеданЪ КолодЪ (Vedan Kolod). Arkona has released covers before, but I believe this is the first one to appear on a main album. Despite the original artist having nothing to do with metal and Arkona's newfound more black metal direction the track fits in well with their original material.

The question is, given their folk metal back catalogue, whether Khram is really the album fans wanted to hear from Arkona? For some it's inevitable that the answer will be no. For others, this will be a breath of fresh air. This band has done several folk metal masterpieces that, frankly, they'd have difficultly in bettering. It's time now for something new. It's time for Khram.

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